ANNAPOLIS – Medical spending statewide for 2002 has leveled off after several years of runaway increases, but prescription drug spending soared and consumer costs escalated, according to a report released by the Maryland Health Care Commission Thursday.
Health care spending – reported at $22.6 billion in 2002 – was up 10.8 percent from 2001, curtailing a period of rising increases.
Increases that occurred were predominantly driven by people using more services, said Ben Steffen, deputy director of data systems and analysis with the commission.
Indicators – such as medical inflation and healthcare use – suggest the slowing trend has continued through 2003, but no one can say for sure until data from the year is compiled, Steffen said.
Total spending may be slowing, but for home health care, prescription drugs and hospital outpatient services, increases grew more rapidly, the commission reported.
Consumers took a big hit. In 2002, they spent 15 percent more on co-payments, deductibles and bills than the year before. Consumer costs increased more than those of Medicare and third-party insurers, suggesting that insurers are cutting expenses by dumping extras on patients.
While getting health care spending under control may look appealing, Bob Howell, Prince George’s Hospital public relations director, said it may be hurting more than helping. Slimmer spending can result in doctors getting paid less than they should and patients not getting timely service, Howell said.
“You can’t just look at the spending. You have doctors leaving the practice, and hospitals closing, and as a result, people who need health care that aren’t getting it,” Howell said. “You can’t just look at percentages.”
The report also indicated health maintenance organizations are losing popularity, with only a third of Maryland’s privately insured population enrolled in 2002, compared to half that population in 1998.
“I don’t think I would characterize it as people being unhappy with HMOs, but rather consumers looking for better value with their plans,” said Bill Little, Atlantic states sales vice-president for Kaiser Permanente.
The HMO membership decline is a result of consumers looking for a competitive price that comes with quality and choices, Little said.
Kaiser’s response is a new Flexible Choice plan: a tiered coverage approach that allows patients to share costs when they want to branch out from the Kaiser group of doctors, giving customers the additional choice they desire.
The commission’s report, “State Health Care Expenditure: Experience from 2002” is available online at www.mhcc.state.md.us.
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